Monday, June 21, 2010

Smart growth bill passes, suggests that public infrastructure be prioritized for downtown developments--but with community-based planning (unlike AY)

Both the state Assembly and Senate last week passed a bill establishing a state smart growth public infrastructure policy.

On one level, the bill--which offers guidance rather than anything enforceable and does not apply to projects already in process--seems to argue for projects like Atlantic Yards, high-density developments near transit.

But a closer look suggests some contradictions.

The justification:
Sprawl is a problem that has exacerbated New York's financial crisis. The extension of infrastructure to areas that have traditionally been green fields have caused runaway expenditures and economic costs. This bill seeks to stop the bleeding by
re-prioritizing state infrastructure expenditures.

...With this pattern of dispersed development, public investment in existing infrastructure located in traditional main streets, downtown areas and established suburbs has been underutilized and those areas have suffered economically.

New York State needs to focus on smart spending that supports existing infrastructure and development in areas where it makes economic and environmental sense. This bill would require state infrastructure funding to be consistent with smart growth principles, with priority given to existing infrastructure and projects that are consistent with local governments' plans for development.
Among the state infrastructure agencies identified is the Empire State Development Corporation, which is shepherding Atlantic Yards.

Looking at the criteria

The act is aspirational (agencies are only supposed to offer a "smart growth statement" that shows its compliance "to the extent practicable"), but several of the criteria prompt reflections in regard to Atlantic Yards:

Criteria include:
  • to advance projects located in municipal centers (for AY, yes)
  • to advance projects in developed areas or areas designated for concentrated infill development in a municipally approved comprehensive land use plan... (for AY, yes to concentrated infill, no to a comprehensive plan)
  • to foster mixed land uses and compact development...the diversity and affordability of housing in proximity to places of employment, recreation and commercial development and the integration of all income and age groups (for AY, yes, at least in its goal, but less likely in its implementation, given the delay in housing)
  • to provide mobility through transportation choices including improved public transportation and reduced automobile dependence (for AY, yes in terms of proximity to transit, no in terms of improved public transportation--other than a new subway entrance)
  • to participate in community based planning and collaboration (for AY, no, despite the form of public input in the environmental review)
  • encouraging broad based public involvement in developing and implementing a community plan and ensuring the governance structure is adequate to sustain its implementation (for AY, no, given the developer-driven plan and the absence of any ongoing governance structure, as proposed by BrooklynSpeaks)

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